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Police Criticize Recent Report On Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women

Photo of Salt Lake City Police Car.
Brett Neilson via Wikimedia Commons

The Salt Lake City Police Department has criticized a landmark report released last month that found that more than 500 indigenous women have either gone missing or were murdered in 71 U.S. cities.

In the report, the Urban Indian Health Institute listed Salt Lake City as one of the top 10 cities with the most cases of missing and murdered indigenous women.

But in a statement released Friday, the police department argued the report inflated the city’s indigenous homicide numbers and called the data “highly erroneous.”

The study listed 22 indigenous homicide victims in Salt Lake, but Detective Greg Wilking said there were only two. Wilking partly blamed his department for the miscommunication.

“We’ll be the first to admit our data wasn’t great,” he said.

According to public records, the Salt Lake City Police Department provided researchers with unclear and indirect data. It contained murder victims as well as accidental deaths, solved missing persons cases and people named in homicide investigations.,

“They could’ve been a witness or even a suspect,” Wilking said. “Not necessarily a victim.”

In a statement, the Urban Indian Health Institute said these kinds of departmental mistakes highlight the need for more uniform guidelines in reporting missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Data on missing and murdered indigenous women isn’t currently tracked at the federal level. Legislation recently passed by the U.S. Senate requires that the FBI file an annual report on the number of missing and murdered indigenous women.

It would also give guidelines for local law enforcement agencies to help track the data and would publically list agencies that didn’t comply.

Native American women face some of the highest sexual assault and violence rates in the country. Many activists believe they disproportionately high levels of homicide as well.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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